The injury history of the LA Charger’s Jason Verrett is extensive and staggering. It began when he messed up his right shoulder in college, then his left shoulder during his rookie year in the NFL, followed by a partially torn ACL in his third NFL season, another surgery on that ACL the following season, and finally, a ruptured achilles during Chargers training camp this off-season.
Jason Verrett has suffered some of the worst injuries you can have as an athlete. That begs me to ask the question: Is this just “bad luck” or is there something underlying all this?
Eh, probably just bad luck 🤷🏽♂️. Thanks for reading!
But seriously, I believe there’s both a physical and mental undercurrent to his injuries. With that in mind, lets sort through each injury and try to connect the dots. At the end, I’ll also detail Jason Verret timeline for return from the achilles rupture and what to expect.
Let’s start in the way back machine, 2013…
I. 2013: Right Shoulder Labrum Tear
During his senior year at TCU, Jason Verrett tore the posterior (think backside of the shoulder) labrum in his shoulder.
The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder joint to help with stability. The picture below lays out the shoulder complex, including the labrum:
The shoulder is extremely mobile so the added stability from the labrum is critical. The shoulder can move multi-directionally in a large range of motion:
A torn labrum injury can get aggravated, inflamed, and really painful during any of these movements,. Add the rigors and impact of playing football and you’re venturing into excruciating.
Jason Verrett decided to fight through that pain and play through it for most of his 2013 senior year campaign, including TCU’s senior day.
Due to his senior year and senior day performance, he got drafted by the Chargers. However, Jason Verrett suffered another shoulder injury during his rookie season…
II. 2014: Left Shoulder Labrum and Rotator Cuff Tear
This time it was other shoulder – while diving to deflect a pass in Week 6 against the Raiders, Jason Verrett tore his left shoulder labrum in three different places and tore his rotator cuff.
I already explained the labrum but the rotator cuff isn’t an actual cuff, rather it’s a combination of 4 muscles that attach around the shoulder joint:
Imagine the head of your upper arm (aka the humeral head) as a car and the rotator cuff muscles as a steering wheel. These 4 muscles, working in conjunction, steer the head of the humerus as it moves. When the control isn’t there, the car runs off track and runs into other things within the shoulder joint.
With this injury, Jason Verrett’s steering wheel (rotator cuff) was compromised, in addition to his labrum. Even so, he came back to finish the Raiders game and unexpectedly played the next week against the Broncos…until he was pulled from the game in the second quarter and spent the second half on the sideline, dressed in street clothes with his left arm in a sling.
Even with those two injuries and surgery indicated, Jason Verrett and the Chargers first opted for for a cortisone shot to reduce inflammation and mask the severe pain, hoping he could play through it (cortisone injections act to reduce inflammation but are only short-term solutions).
The pain was too severe for Jason and a month later, he was finally scheduled for surgery. Here’s what Chargers coach at the time, Mike McCoy, had to say about the saga:
“It’s something we’ve known about..we’re not going to put anyone out there if we don’t think they’re ready to play. That’s regardless of what the injury is, what body part. They spend a lot of hours in the training room to get better and get healthy. A number of players are playing with certain things. Some have played with his injury. He’s not the first guy to do this.”
If your friends jumped off a bridge….
Fortunately, Jason Verrett was able to recover in time for 2015 and had a great year, making his first pro bowl. However, early into the 2016 season, things took a severe turn for the worst…
III. 2016: Partially torn left ACL
Jason Verrett partially tore his left ACL early in the 2016 season. He isn’t alone as it’s a relatively common injury with between 100,000 to 200,000 ruptures per year in the US (click here and here for more info), and even that number is likely underreported (click here and here for more info).
We don’t know the exact mechanism or week that Jason Verrett suffered his partial tear but Verrett believed it may have been week 2 or week 3 because:
“there were a lot of plays where my body was feeling different”.
However, he added:
“I knew something wasn’t right but I have the mindset of being out there”
Sensing a theme here?
However, after week 4 against the Saints, Jason Verrett still had residual soreness and pain in his left knee so he told the Chargers medical staff. An MRI revealed a partial tear.
The ACL being partially torn rather than fully torn is almost assuredly what allowed Jason Verrett to keep playing in the interim. The ACL is critical in stabilizing the knee joint in multiple directions so with a full tear his left knee would have been overtly unstable when placed under high stress rather than just “feeling different.”
This video does a great job of illustrating the anatomy and function of the ACL (watch from the :28 mark to the 1:25 mark):
In most cases of an incomplete ACL tear, it can be managed conservatively (without surgery) with an emphasis on physical therapy and sport-specific biomechanics. Clinical outcomes, for the general population, are pretty good.
However, if the tear is still relatively large (which we don’t know for Jason Verrett) and there’s a high activity level (NFL cornerback, extremely demanding), surgery is indicated.
With that in mind, the Chargers medical staff decided that Jason Verrett did need surgery on his partially torn ACL and he missed the rest of the season, with his focus moving onto 2017…
“No matter what I go through or put my body through, I’m going to continue to fight.”
However, the 2017 season wouldn’t bring much reprieve….
IV. 2017: Left ACL re-repair
Heading into the 2017 season, the Chargers by all accounts were bringing Jason Verrett along methodically and very conservatively, placing him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list heading into training camp and playing him only in one preseason game – a sound move considering research has found that side to side movement asymmetry (jumping distance, landing distance, mechanics) ca exists for up to 2 years after ACL surgery.
At that point, the Chargers medical staff and Verrett decided that the best route forward was another ACL reconstruction.
Here’s one example of how the ACL is reconstructed:
I couldn’t find the exact re-injury details but either his ACL had another severe partial tear or was fully ruptured.
Unfortunately, this isn’t all that uncommon. The risk for re-rupturing the same side ACL after surgical repair is upwards of 25 percent. It’s no coincidence that prior ACL injury is the best predictor for future ACL injury.
Here’s something even more alarming: The risk of rupturing the other side (“contralateral”) ACL after surgical repair is upwards of 20.5 percent! Bio-mechanics, proprioception, and compensation…it’s a love and hate relationship I tell ya.
There’s also the possibility that even though the Chargers were conservative with Jason Verrett, he was still brought back too soon. Keep in mind his “if I’m playing, I’m going all out” mentality.
Evidence shows that early participation and accelerated ACL protocols do carry some risk of re-injury. Athletes in accelerated rehab programs may have ongoing abnormal motion and relative weakness for up to 22 months following surgery, in addition to an increased risk for knee osteoarthritis (click here and here for more info).
Here’s what one of the Chargers coaches, Anthony Lynn, had to say at the time:
“It was never right in my opinion, just watching him in practice. He’s such a competitor, but he wasn’t able to play to his standard.
Regardless , Jason Verrett was scheduled for a re-repair on his left ACL and targeted 2018 for his return.
V. 2018: Achilles rupture
After two surgeries and two years of rehabbing, Jason Verrett was finally looking like the same player that landed a Pro Bowl berth in 2014. He was looking great in mini-camp according to the LA Times (still feels odd that the Chargers are in LA):
Verrett has flashed the speed, skill and quickness that had everyone so excited when he made the Pro Bowl in 2015. Wednesday (June 13th) marked his first full day of practice.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley gushed about Verrett’s skillset and how well his recovery was going.
The Chargers secondary coach Ron Milus commented directly on Verrett’s physical burst and confidence of movement, with cautious optimism:
He’s in really good spirits. He’s a lot further along than he was at this time last year — more so in his mind.
He knows that he’s coming back. He’s got some of that quickness back when we go out and do drills. I see the same burst and explosion that I’m used to, and hopefully when he comes back in July, he’s full speed — he doesn’t have to take any plays off. We’ll see where it goes from there.”
And lastly, Jason Verrett himself was ready to show that he was back to being a Pro Bowl corner and cornerstone of the Chargers secondary, playing with no brace and full confidence:
“Man, last year was tough. I was in a brace the whole time. It was like a little bit mentally and physically [challenging]. But now being out of the brace, not even thinking, being able to cut and get out of my breaks, I’m able to cut and get back to where I was before.”
“I hate that I had to have the injuries that I had, but it’s going to be special when I bounce back this year.”
Unfortunately, here’s what happened next:
When I heard about it, I literally went down to my knees. This dude had worked so hard and been through so much to get back…and now this. He got full medical clearance on his ACL on June 15th and less than a month a half later, he ruptured his achilles.
Just terrible, no other way I can describe it, and once again, he’s left to pick up the pieces.
But what could have caused it? By all accounts, he was looking great and moving extremely well in training camp. To figure that out, there are two things we need to discuss.
The first is the mechanism of injury (aka the immediate cause of the achilles rupture) and the second is possible factors that may have weakened his achilles tendon over time, eventually leading to the rupture. Lets start with the former:
A. The Immediate Cause aka “mechanism of injury (MOI)”
Generally, the mechanism of injury for an achilles tendon rupture is a high stress movement that involves sudden pivoting or pushing off with the foot or a combination of both (click here, here, and here for more info). If the achilles can’t handle the amount of stress placed on it during that movement, it ruptures.
We don’t know exactly when Jason Verrett ruptured his achilles but based on when he tore it (during conditioning drills aka wind sprints), we can infer that his rupture likely occurred when he was attempting to accelerate and went to push off with his back foot.
When you place the foot behind you to accelerate and push-off, the achilles is first elongated/stretched which places a high level of tension and stress on the achilles.
Stand up and try it: replicate that first step of sprinting and you’ll likely feel a stretch in the back of your calf and achilles (don’t freak out, that’s normal). If you’re interested in why, read this article on the “passive length-tension relationship” of muscle.
That tension is actually very beneficial because it turns the achilles into a stretched out spring full of elastic potential energy.
Once the spring (achilles) is let go, it generates a significant amount of force and propels the body forward. It’s critical for acceleration and burst.
However, if the achilles isn’t taken care of appropriately, it begins to weaken, degenerate, and eventually it can’t handle that pushing-off stress, causing it to snap.
It’s no coincidence that sprinters have the highest lifetime incidence of achilles ruptures (nearly 18% of all sprinters rupture their achilles). They are constantly loading their achilles in that manner.
I like to think of the weakened achilles like an employee who is at the end of his or her rope – overworked and burnt out because the boss has constantly been laying deadlines down without reprieve. Then comes one afternoon where the printer has a paper jam (a normal occurrence that’s easily been dealt with before) but this time employee is at wit’s end and just completely snaps:
If you haven’t seen Office Space – stop reading right now, clear your schedule, and go watch it.
If you have, lets talk about what factors may have caused Jason Verrett’s achilles to weaken, decrease its stress tolerance, and snap…
B. Underlying factors that weakened the achilles
1 – Over-Use
“Too much, too soon” is one of the most common causes of soft tissue injury in general, including for the achilles. If there’s a sudden ramp up or overall increase in activity, the tendon gets overloaded with stress and weakens.
By all accounts, the Chargers were being very conservative with Jason Verrett in his recovery but it’s still possible that the extent or intensity of training ramped up too quickly. That’s especially tangible with a player like Jason Verrett who isn’t one to just do things half-heartedly.
Chargers GM Tom Velesco echoed that sentiment:
“He was healthy in the offseason program and we were probably more cautious than we had to be. We probably held him back, and he probably wanted to do a lot more. We tried to gently ramp him up, just on volume. But he’s a competitive player.”
“He’s full go. He wants to be full go.”
In my experience with athletes, one of the toughest challenges is reigning in their intensity and activity level as they recover from injury. Most have been taught to always train at 100%, no matter what. This mentality sets you up for a setback and risk of new or re-injury.
2 – Fatigue
For Jason Verrett, the months leading up his achilles rupture were the highest level of activity that he’d had for years. After tearing his ACL the first time, he didn’t participate much in summer OTAs or training camp because he was still coming along slowly. Then after the second ACL tear, he was again in rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices in mid-June and was working really hard – think back to those earlier quotes from cornerbacks coach Ron Milus about Verrett’s speed and burst being back to pre-injury levels.
That speed and burst comes with more energy expenditure and higher fatigue, especially if you aren’t used to doing them for extended periods of time. For that reason, fatigue could have played a factor in the achilles tendon rupture.
3 – Changed bio-mechanics & compensation following an ACL tear
The unfortunate reality with an ACL tear (or any injury really, but even more so with severe injuries) is that it doesn’t just affect the knee. It changes the mechanics of that leg and leads to compensations, both physical and mental.
This speaks to how inderdependent the human body is – every body part mutually relies on the others, like links in a chain. When one is affected, it indirectly affects the others as well.
As I mentioned earlier, we know an ACL tear increases the tear risk for the non-injured ACL due to compensations and altered mechanics. Additionally, there are side to side differences in strength, stability, and proprioception (the proprioceptive system is how your brain unconsciously knows where your body parts are in space) between the injured and non-injured leg for up to 2 years post surgery.
These changes can easily result in changed mechanics and compensatory patterns, with other muscles and tendons, like the achilles tendon (the largest tendon in the body), having to take on a greater share of responsibility. Over time, those muscles and tendons can become overloaded and start to weaken or degenerate (“career burnout”).
We’ll never know if that was the case with Jason Verrett but it’s reasonably possible. He had 2 straight years of ACL rehab and he and his coaches openly commented on how he didn’t look right, mentally or physically, until the end of the 2nd year of rehab.
If his achilles tendon was taking on more stress throughout that time, it could have weakened and decreased it’s tolerance to load, with that final push-off equating to the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So those are some underlying possibilities for why his achilles tendon couldn’t handle that final push-off during conditioning. Lets now transition to the recovery, starting with surgery:
VI. Achilles Tendon Repair
Although there’s still debate as to whether a non-operative (conservative) or operative (surgical) approach is optimal following an achilles rupture (click here, here, here, here, and here for more info), surgery surgery is recommended for athletes (click here, here, here, and here for more info).
There are multiple types of achilles surgery but the goal is the same: re-connect the tendon and make sure the tension level is similar to where it was pre-injury.
Here’s one example of what surgery may look like (work-safe):
After surgery is complete and the tendon reconnected, Jason Verrett moves onto rehab and recovery…
VII. Jason Verrett return to play timeline
Research has shown that the average return to play timeline after achilles rupture is roughly 6 months. However, NFL players have taken about 11 months on average.
That would peg Jason Verret’s return around June 2018.
Normally I’d go into the full details of his rehab but since this piece is already lengthy, I’m going to skip them and refer you to this piece if you’re interested in the deets. However, I do want to review some overlying macro factors that could influence Jason Verret’s recovery.
Macro (contextual) factors
1 – Family, team, and social support
Rehabbing from an injury as a professional athlete can be a very lonely place, let alone when you’re doing it for the third year in a row like Jason Verrett
It’s just you and the medical staff (often times the same person) for long periods of time, days on end. Therefore, it’s really important to stay connected and have a support system to keep the spirits and motivation up.
Even though Verrett has been injured for the majority of his Chargers career, he’s still developed relationships and connections with the team throughout his tenure there.
For example, here’s what Chargers corner Jahleel Addae had to say:
“I saw what he went through to bounce back from his knee. I saw his loyalty and his dedication to the game, his family and to his craft. To see it happen like that in a conditioning test, I love him like a brother, so to see him go down with a freak injury, it’s tough. But we’ll be praying for him and we’ll be out there for him. Jason will bounce back”
Hopefully those bonds will help inflate his sail as he moves through the rehab process.
2 – Resiliency and mindset
Jason Verrett has had a resilient and tough mindset in spades (arguably to the extreme) but again, this is his third major injury in as many years. That will wear on any player, even the mentally strongest.
We haven’t heard from Jason Verrett himself but here’s how some of his teammates & coaches responded, starting with Chargers LB Denzell Perryman who spent last year rehabbing with Jason Verrett:
“I missed half the season last year, and he missed the whole one, and we went through the rehab phase together…to see him go down, it was devastating. It was sad. It was a comeback season for the both of us, so this hurts my heart. But he’s in my prayers and his family is in my prayers. I just wish him a speedy recovery.”
Additionally, there was Keenan Allen who himself has been through a stretch of brutal injuries:
“I’m very emotional over it. It’s hard to watch him go down like that after he worked so hard to come back this season. I know how tough it is. I’m just sending him prayers.”
Imagine how Verrett feels.
Coming off the back to back ACL repairs and now with the achilles tendon repair, this rehab is going to be the hardest one yet mentally so it’s critical that Verrett is able to maintain that resilient mindset rather than completely give into thoughts of despair and “why me”.
3 – Contract Uncertainty
There’s never a good time for an achilles rupture but this one couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jason Verrett – he’s in a contract year.
Contract years are especially critical in the NFL because of the non-guaranteed nature of NFL contracts – you have to show out as much as possible to earn as much guaranteed money as possible. Being in a contract year while injured naturally creates a lot of uncertainty for Jason Verrett.
Most humans don’t like uncertainty, especially financial uncertainty, and the feelings of “why me” are inherent, especially for Jason Verrett who has worked his entire life to play in the NFL, battled through constant injuries, finally felt like he was on the brink of being healthy…and then had the rug pulled out yet again.
These feelings of doubt and negativity can and will creep into rehab and negatively impact the healing environment if they aren’t dealt with swiftly.
Normally, I’d also be very concerned (considering his “all or nothing, by any means necessary” mentality) that Jason Verret would rush back and try to play this season in order to assuage team’s concerns and land a bigger deal.
However, it’s pretty much impossible for him to make it back this year. Even on the outside chance that the Chargers make the Super Bowl, (don’t @ me Chargers fans), that’s only slightly over 6 months from his injury to February weekend. Like I said earlier, the average return to play for NFL players after an achilles rupture is 11 months.
So those are some macro layers of Jason Verrett’s recovery. Once he does get back, what can we expect performance wise and for his future prospects?
VIII. Long-Term Implications of Achilles Tendon Rupture
The long-term implications after an achilles rupture aren’t pretty.
Many studies have followed individuals after achilles rupture and the results don’t paint a rosy picture. Although 80% of individuals returned to following an achilles rupture, there’s evidence of long-term changes in muscle strength, endurance, muscle activity, ankle range of motion, and calf atrophy – for up to 10 years after the rupture (click here, here, here, and here for more info). In the case of athletes involved in running, bio-mechanical and muscle deficits can persist for up to 4 years after the injury (click here, here, and here for more info).
Of athletes who were able to play at least 2 seasons after returning from the achilles rupture (nearly 57% weren’t able to meet this criteria for a variety of reasons), they participated in significantly fewer games and had significant decreases in secondary measures of longevity and performance metrics after year 1.
HOWEVER, those athletes who were able to play 2 or more years were able to perform at a level commensurate with their non-injured counterparts.
Further, a study came out last year that specifically looked at NFL players returning from achilles tendon rupture. It found that 73% returned to play but on average went on to play a year less than their non-injured counterparts.
In terms of performance, running backs and linebackers took the biggest hit when comparing pre vs post surgery, and linebackers took a significant hit when comparing post-surgery production to non-injured linebackers.
So here’s the reality for Jason Verrett after suffering an achilles rupture: Odds are that his first two years back will be subpar compared to his pre-injury level. However, if he’s able to make it through those 2 years without a major setback, he could return to being a high level corner. Howevr, his previous ACL injuries are a huge confounding variable that could set him back even further.
Additionally, there’s one other variable that has worked against him throughout his NFL career…
IX. The “Grit and Bear It” Mindset
I’ve been dropping not so subtle hints about Jason Verrett’s mindset the entire way:
Unfortunately, this mentality is still pervasive in sports (amongst coaches, players, and fans alike), especially in football (a recent prominent example is the University of Maryland football coaching staff). This mindset can lead to and/or exacerbate injuries and in the case of Maryland, a player actually died.
It’s a common theme we saw from Jason Verrett with nearly every injury:
- Playing through an torn right labrum his senior year at TCU (which is actually the most understandable in my opinion because he was playing to get drafted)
- Trying to play through and get a cortisone shot with his injured left labrum and torn rotator cuff during his rookie year in SD
- Chalking up his partial ACL tear as just “normal soreness”
- Going all out during summer practices in the lead-up to his achilles rupture
This mindset of “just keep playing and giving it 100%, no matter what” is commendable to an extent but can quickly become a doubled edged sword. Two other examples come to mind:
- Kobe, in the lead-up to his own achilles rupture, severely sprained his ankle against the Hawks when Dahntay Jones undercut him on the final shot of the game (the Zaza school of defense). He came back from that injury way too quickly and went on to play multiple games without rest in order to get the team to the playoffs…until his achilles ruptured in the 3rd to last game of the season (I was at the game unfortunately).
- Isiah Thomas played through a hip labrum tear to lead the Celtics deep into the playoffs (all the while dealing with his little sister’s sudden death. The amount of flack he got this past year was ridiculous). He was promptly rewarded by the Celtics by getting dealt to Cleveland where he tried to play himself back into game shape on the floor. After a mid-season trade to the Lakers, his hip labrum eventually got irritated to the point that he had to shut it down and have surgery…in his contract year. Instead of a potential max offer in free agency, he got a 1 year, 2 million (vet minimum) “prove it” deal from Denver.
It’s one thing to try and help the team by making plays, but it’s another thing to be overly reckless, be constantly putting yourself in high risk positions, and playing through constant pain.
I like to use the analogy of hearing a little rattle in your car.
You’re driving along and one day you hear a faint rattle in your car and instead of checking it out, tell yourself “ah it’s nothing, I’m sure it will just go away”. When the rattle gets louder, still “no big deal, the car is just getting older”. Next thing you know, you go to hit third gear on the highway and your transmission falls out. That person you shake your head at and give advice to while they’re stranded on the shoulder of the highway is now you.
This mentality is especially risky in the NFL – a sport without guaranteed contracts where most of the teams won’t think twice about cutting an injured player (it’s just business remember? Except when the player decides to make a decision for themselves…then it’s selfish, disloyal, traitorous, etc. Oy vey).
All that being said, I don’t blame Jason Verrett for this underlying mentality – it’s apparent that football culture still prides itself on a “no pain, no gain, just suck it up and play” mentality. You constantly hear coaches, commentators, and fans praising that attitude so it’s only natural that players are going to absorb that mentality as well.
You’d think that NFL medical staffs would step in but unfortunately these staffs aren’t independent which lends itself towards bias and feeling pressure to do what’s best for the team rather than the individual.
Verrett’s case certainly takes that mentality to the extreme and it hasn’t helped his career prospects by any means.
X. All in All
Overall, an achilles rupture is a brutal injury – regardless of when it happens or who suffers it.
It could be especially devastating for Jason Verrett because it’s the third consecutive serious injury to his lower body and another extended rehab period. That takes a toll physically and mentally, which is further compounded by a murky contract situation and overzealous, ambitious, “go 100% all the time” mindset
If Jason Verrett does get back to full health and is able to stay healthy, it very well may take him 2+ years to get back to his original form and his career is likely to be shorter than other cornerbacks.
I wish Jason Verrett all the best and I try to stay as optimistic as possible in writing these pieces but lets look at this objectively:
A player who plays with reckless abandon and doesn’t listen to his own body (reinforced by the culture of the league he plays in), coming off 3 straight very serious lower body injuries, each with short and long-term ramifications. It’s hard not to be pessimistic.
Thanks for reading, until next time.
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Disclaimer: This is not medical advice and shouldn’t be taken as such. If you’re having medical issues, reach out to a medical professional.